Venice 2022 review: Trenque Lauquen (Laura Citarella)

“Through her use of cinematography, editing, and music Citarella succeeds in bringing beauty to sequences of every kind, the strongest examples being the conclusion of each part of her movie.”

Four years after La Flor, a six-part, thirteen-and-a-half-hour-long genre mashing epic directed by Mariano Llinás, a large part of the team behind it – gathered in the collective El Pampero Cine – came back for a new project which could almost seem small in comparison: ‘only’ two times two hours. Laura Citarella, who produced La Flor, wrote and directed Trenque Lauquen, on which Llinás is credited as a collaborator for both screenplay and editing. Several actors from La Flor are present as well, starting with Laura Paredes as the main character. She also co-wrote the screenplay, which is envisioned by the two Lauras as a sequel of sorts to Citarella’s first feature film, Ostende. “The same character [also named Laura], played by the same actress, lives different lives in different towns“, in her words.

Trenque Lauquen takes its name from a small country town in Argentina, set in the middle of nowhere. It is there that Laura has vanished when the movie starts. Her presence on screen comes from the recollections and the investigation of the two men who travel around town, looking for her: Rafael and Ezequiel. Their memories of the disappeared, along with the testimonies they gather, put into motion a narrative with a Russian doll structure, wherein each flashback contains another one. This scavenger hunt echoes the ones pursued by Laura. Whether it is flowers, passionate love letters from half a century ago hidden in borrowed library books, or a puzzling creature, seemingly half-human and half-animal, found in the city lake, she always appears trying to crack the secret of a missing piece of some kind; until, in the present of the film, she herself becomes the missing piece subject to inquiry.

The question of our place in the world is at the core of Trenque Lauquen, through the concepts of being a missing piece and its opposite, to be an unnecessary piece. All of Laura’s experiences recounted in the story lead to a variation on the following riddle: when she feels something is lacking, could it not be that her own presence is in fact too much? This feeling becomes especially strong in the final story within the story, in which Laura penetrates the household composed by the enigmatic creature and the two women who adopted it. Before that, every chapter of the film was leaning towards that same issue: how can we make what we need and crave coincide with where we are needed and desired? Four hours is not enough to wear out this question, to which there is no easy answer. On the contrary, the numerous layers of different nature folded together by Trenque Lauquen (some connections operate on a narrative level, others on an aesthetic or emotional one) broaden and thicken the question, up to the point where it becomes unsolvable – everyone in the film seems to end up with far less than what they wished for, if not alone.

Trenque Lauquen is therefore filled with melancholy, but also with a lot of grace, mystery, and life as well. Through her use of cinematography, editing, and music Citarella succeeds in bringing beauty to sequences of every kind, the strongest examples being the conclusion of each part of her movie – first a car tour around the town, which suddenly turns into a captivating place, and then a quiet escape on foot to nowhere, across landscapes gorgeously rendered on screen. As to the characters populating the city, all of them are fully fleshed-out thanks to the empathy expressed towards them by the director, and the time spent with them. Instead of being mere pawns of the story, they give the impression of truly living their lives, in which we are allowed to share some small part – a feat rare enough to deserve to be pointed out.